The world’s largest shopping event is taking place not once—but twice—this year

November 2, 2020, 10:04 AM UTC

China’s largest e-commerce player, Alibaba Group, is doubling its Singles’ Day offerings this year, running the massive online sales event across two periods rather than one. Alibaba says it expanded the shopping window for Singles’ Day to provide more relief for merchants that have been hit hard by the pandemic.

“This year the festival expands from ‘single’ to ‘double,’ enabling merchants to double up on promoting their products across China not just once, but twice,” said Jiang Fan, president of Alibaba’s two consumer-facing e-commerce sites Taobao and Tmall, in a statement.

Singles’ Day—a counter to Valentine’s Day that celebrates being alone rather than being hitched—is ordinarily held on Nov. 11 because the date’s numeric value is a group of single ones: 11/11.

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Alibaba began commercializing the unofficial holiday in 2009, making it the world’s largest shopping festival; it shipped $38.4 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV) on Singles’ Day last year. Amazon’s Prime Day, by comparison, sold an estimated $6 billion in goods last year.

This year, Alibaba introduced a second sales period, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3, increasing opportunities for consumers to pick up cheap deals. According to Alibaba, shoppers spent over $1.49 billion on goods within the first 111 minutes of sales on Nov. 1, with the first delivery taking place at a suspiciously precise 11 minutes past midnight. (Singles’ Day is also known as the “Double 11” festival in China, because it occurs on the 11th day of the 11th month. Consequently, a lot of Alibaba’s marketing for Singles’ Day centers around the number 11.)

That spending seems slow compared with last year, when Alibaba said merchants sold $1 billion of goods within the first minute of Singles’ Day sales.

While China’s economy has seen a remarkable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, exports and government spending on infrastructure are largely responsible for the comeback. Consumer spending has yet to make a significant return. Retail sales returned to growth only in August, rising 0.5% over last year; September growth clocked in at 3.3% versus 2019.

In the past, merchants have criticized Alibaba’s massive sales event, accusing the e-commerce giant of pressuring them to participate. On Singles’ Day, discounts start at 50% off, and some sellers complain they are compelled to sell items at a loss just to be involved. Introducing more sales days is unlikely to alleviate that burden.

But for wary consumers, the second Alibaba’s Singles’ Day event offers another opportunity for deals.

The inclusion of Tmall Global—Alibaba’s imports unit, where international merchants sell imported goods to Chinese consumers—also appears to be providing an outlet for consumers who would normally spend while traveling overseas. On the first day of discounts, sales on Tmall Global jumped 90% compared with the same period last year, Alibaba says.

Wine, in particular, saw a 400% increase in GMV in what’s perhaps a sign of the trying times.